Sunday, June 28, 2015

Incentive systems and how they are immediately gamed

I was annoyed recently with my two boys, ages 8 and 11, who were bickering non-stop about trivialities. So I came up with a "system" on the spur of the moment. The system was, that for every negative thing they said to one another, they had to say 5 positive things.

Well, that worked about as well as I might have imagined, had I thought about it for more than 5 seconds.

Kenny:  "Peter, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful!
Okay, now I get to say something mean!"

Bottom line - any time a system is created, the VERY FIRST thought that most people subject to this system have, is how to game it.

Another example - I was reading some forum posts recently on the Mr Money Mustache site, which I check out frequently. There's lots of interesting stuff there.  I read a post recently about a workplace that instituted a reward program to get people to stop smoking. The reward for stopping smoking was substantial - around $700. The forum discussion was about smoking for a day, then quitting, in order to be able to claim the $700 reward for quitting smoking. The consensus appeared to be - look very carefully at the details, and make sure your health insurance rates wouldn't go up, etc., etc., but once you've done that, then go for it.

I had a similar situation come up recently. A company that I worked for offered a $1000 wellness bonus, that could be used for health club membership or exercise classes. I'm generally in good shape, and am also diligent about exercising on my own, without a health club or exercise classes. It's far more convenient to exercise that way. But because I didn't want to do group classes, there was no way for me to get that $1000. And that really pissed me off!


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